Maybe it just takes one to know one, Ben.
A day after the Nets’ Jared Dudley said what everyone with a working set of eyes already knew — that Ben Simmons is an average offensive player in the halfcourt — Simmons fired back with a smug one-liner.
“That’s coming from Jared Dudley,” Simmons said Thursday when asked about the comments, flashing a confused look at reporters before moving on to the next question.
As it happens, That’s Jared Dudley is what fans watching Simmons’ Game 1 performance thought, too.
Simmons is one of the most talented young players in the league, with the size and vision and grace of a superstar. Dudley is a 33-year-old journeyman pastry chef. It should be a mismatch when the two meet, on the court or off.
Yet in Game 1, Simmons was clowned by Dudley, who made Simmons look foolish on multiple plays. Despite the fact that in some Brooklyn lineups, Dudley is the center — and despite the further facts that Dudley is 33, undersized, and chiseled from a bag of cake mix — and Simmons is a freak athlete 6-foot-10 point guard, Simmons could not shake the Brooklyn big man. On one play, Dudley gave him a clear runway to the rim, then pulled out the chair when Simmons expected contact. Air ball layup. On another, Dudley simply refused to give him an inch near the basket. Brick. Simmons finished with a miserable 9 points in 32 minutes.
Simmons came up with a better game in Game 2, with 18 points and a triple-double. Then again, Dudley didn’t play.
It would be ridiculous to suggest that Jared Dudley, all 800 pounds of him, is a Ben Simmons stopper. He doesn’t need to be. He’s simply following the book on defending Simmons.
Simmons most commonly draws comparisons to Rajon Rondo, especially in his early days with the Boston Celtics. Rondo was another shooting-challenged point guard — though he could spot up from midrange — who was defended then the way Simmons is now. The outcomes were very different.
Tall tales about ‘Playoff Rondo’ and ‘National TV Rondo’ were common around the league, as the guard, with his Beautiful Mind-style preparation and anticipation, went into another gear when the stakes were raised. He would score more, and more efficiently, seeming to turn the opposing scouting report against itself.
There is no such elevation to Simmons postseason game, at least not yet in his short career. His Sixers went off for a record 51 points in the third quarter of Game 2 to blow it open, and, certainly, he was part of that, but largely in the way that Dudley explained in those original comments: Simmons is a transcendent player in transition.
Against the Nets, who really ought to be overmatched in this series, that may turn out to be enough. Against the more complete teams in the conference, let alone the monster rosters out west, it will not cut it — especially with co-star Joel Embiid struggling with knee and, to put it gently, fitness issues.
Responding to a Daily News report that he missed a March 25 game in Orlando because he been out late the night before — which, to be clear, happens all the time in the league — didn’t bother to deny it, but changed the subject to something equally fraught.
“You’re talking about the regular season?” Simmons said. “We’re talking about playoffs, man. It’s playoffs right now.”